More FnB. I know, right?
In the hurried realm of blogging, “hiatus” is profane terminology. Equally toxic are the countless half-started, unpublished posts that continually pile up, likely never to reach the light of existence. I have so many.
Thankfully however, an old writing spell with FnB couldn’t remain suppressed any longer. After umpteen glorious features both in the media–locally and nationally (hello, NYT)–and among the growing crowd of fellow local food bloggers, the fact that I still hadn’t revisited my own favorable FnB experience(s) became a cry increasingly too loud to ignore.
I’ve now had the pleasure of eating at FnB on multiple occasions in the fairly brief time the new restaurant has been open. Where frequently a new spot of similar aim takes time to truly hit its stride, FnB seems to have bypassed many of the common, initial shortfalls that have bemoaned many of its contemporaries before it. In fact, not since NOCA (and yes, a few others) has a new Phoenix area restaurant generated so much palpable, critical buzz within the local food community in such a short period of time. Mind you, the restaurant has only been open a few months, yet already feels like it has been for years.
Taking food out of the equation for brief moment, FnB owes a substantial part of its mounting allure to its cheerleader and all around soul, owner Pavle Milic. By now, anyone who pays even the slightest ounce of attention to local restaurant chatter has heard this man’s name echoed around town. With a local managing resumé that includes Prado and the now plundered Digestif, Pavle’s charisma and very-present confidence reads like a respectful, welcoming next door neighbor. Part guide, part headlining server, Milic makes the rounds–table-to-table–ensuring all of his customers are as captivated by their first course as they are their last.
The kitchen is helmed by determined duo Charleen Badman (co-owner and head chef; past resumé includes Rancho Pinot) and her handy sous Sacha Levine. To say these two focused, ever-so grounded women are simply talented would be to make a grossly undervalued declaration.
The physical space itself, once the address of Nobuo Fukuda’s legendary eatery Sea Saw, briefly also provided shelter for Digestif’s short-lived relocation (a relocation that should have never occurred in the first place). With what seemed like a hurried change-over at the time, one might have thought FnB to be yet another half-ass regurgitation of another old Kasperski favorite; the next in a surgically premeditated line of stylish new restaurant concepts. One might be further from the truth.
Lets put it this way: if FnB hasn’t hit its stride yet, this entire city is in for a genuine dining triumph. Something magical is happening here, and the cynic in myself has managed to remain at bay. When talking about FnB, the border between high praise and hyperbole becomes increasingly blurred.
The focus of FnB is obviously on the food. From its industry jargon-inspired salutation “FnB” (food and beverage, folks), its seemingly effortless service and uncluttered decor, to its off-centered island kitchen protruding into the middle of the “efficient” dining space, the food is directed to be our full attention.
Much like Sea Saw before it, the dining bar surrounding said island kitchen is easily the restaurant’s prime real estate. From local food socialites to casual diners alike, the horseshoe bar has become known front-row territory for those not merely looking for the most interactive and stimulating dining experience to be had, but for those looking for the most conspicuously visible as well.
Yes, the food. Lightly (and incredibly controversially) referred to as a “gastropub” by some in the local food community–despite its still evolving but limited selection of brews–FnB confidently serves premium quality, casually modern American food (local and or organic whenever possible) in a lively and intentionally straight-forward atmosphere. The food is simultaneously homespun and forward, executed with a relaxed sensibility. It’s an accumulation only a few local restaurants can deliver so successfully.
Built largely around the idea of sharing, the majority of FnB’s menu exists as a ride to sample more. If you visit the restaurant preferring to navigate the staid appetizer-entree-dessert dining construct, you may be missing out on the breadth of satisfaction FnB can offer–most especially if you don’t happen to dine out with much consistency, let alone with dedicated repetition.
With a menu that is tweaked often (changes and updates have been seen to occur within days of each other), FnB also provides an experience that can be enjoyed frequently without burnout. It’s a neighborhood dining venue intended to be patronized often. And, not just by tourists and those seeking to satisfy a special event. There are no gimmicks here, no condescension or pandering to our cheapest dining desires, just a decidedly high-brow product and experience wrapped in an honest package.
Of the smaller plates (running from $4-13), there were several standouts. One in particular–and one that equally seems to be an audience favorite–is the braised leeks, crowned in house-made mozzarella, mustard bread crumbs and the eternally easy-sell: a fried egg. Reporting about this even now, the overtly simple yet perfectly executed dish, my stomach growls. My only complaint? I’d add a second egg.
Other examples of what I’d simply call delicious: the country ham plate–paper-thin sheets of the meat accompanied with fans of sharp cheddar, a heady mustard and a variety of snacking vegetables pickled in-house; fried rock shrimp with a deserved condiment of jalapeno tartar; roasted romanesco cauliflower (often called romanesco broccoli as well; tastes like a cousin of both) soaked in a herb-friendly salsa verde; firm fried green tomatoes covered in feta crumbs and a green goddess dressing; spigarello (think purebred broccoli-rabe but less bitter), faintly pan-charred, with chili and garlic; and a sublime example of what is often a common restaurant standby these days: the shaved fennel salad. Their presentation of said shavings are intermixed with a routinely updated variety of Arizona-grown citrus (orange, grapefruit, etc.), and a welcoming ration of bitter radishes and salty green olives thrown in for good measure. This dish in particular is a great illustration of how the quality of individual ingredients alone can elevate an otherwise ordinary dish so dramatically.
So simple, so confident.
Larger plates ($18-27), equally worthy of sharing: a jidori chicken (uncaged, free-ranging birds absent of chemicals, never frozen) roasted skin-crisp with young garlic, atop doughy spaetzle (tiny pan-fried dumplings) and wild mushrooms; a heaping lamb tenderloin, grilled exactly, served with potatoes, artichokes, olives and mint; and an example of trout, butter-soft, dressed with caramelized onions, sunchokes and fresh dill.
There is an equally updated and rotating selection of desserts perfect for sugary post-meal group therapy. One such standout at the time was a thinly rich, cake-like bread pudding constructed from Ben Hershberger’s (the Phoenician’s acclaimed former baker extraordinaire, soon to be new such guru for Thomas Keller in NYC) locally notorious chocolate-cherry sourdough bread. There was also the clafouti (sweet pancake-like batter, usually molded with fruit), a terrificly light and spongy copy, with tart berries.
Though all too often an unforgettable dessert option at many restaurants (unfortunately), FnB happens to serve a nearly sinister crème brûlée–a version bolstered in flavor by meyer lemon shine, and well, the depth of thyme. Each ramekin of sugar-layered custard is burnt not by the modern gadgetry of kitchen blow torches or broilers, but by the quaintly other-era method of a crème brûlée iron–a gangly, crooked instrument to be exact–which sits patiently, blistering hot all night, waiting to toast the next order.
If you’re like myself (and many of my close companions), a worthy cocktail, brew, or glass of wine, can also all exist as a barometer of a well-executed dining experience. Perfectly crafted and inspired specialty cocktails exist as refreshing as they are, well, sometimes useful. Beloved personal standouts include the ginhound (gin, grapefruit juice and mint) and the cranberry Presbyterian (cranberry-infused vodka, lemon juice and ginger ale).
As a proud native Zonie in particular, I would be remise not to give a shout (I mean, everyone else has) to their wine and beer offerings. All of which are sourced entirely within the state–the sole exception being a Blanc de Noir sparkling via New Mexico’s famous house of Gruet. Yes, the Land of Enchantment can hang with the cool kids too.
On Friday and Saturday nights after 10pm, FnB has become a particularly well-haunted venue for loyal FnB patrons and local industry herds. Offering impromptu (and often very diverse) nightly specials.
Can’t complain there, either.
FnB | fnbrestaurant.com | 7133 W. Stetson Dr | Downtown Scottsdale | 480-425-9463 (reservations accepted)
* Photog footnote: Please excuse lacking picture quality. It is not one of my–or my camera’s–strongest talents.